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Research in France


Large Map of FrancePrior to the French Revolution, France was divided into provinces, now known as regions.

In 1789, the French Revolutionary Government reorganized France into new divisions called Départements.

There are 100 Départements in France - 96 within the borders of France, and 4 overseas (Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, and Réunion).


Each of these Départements has its own archives which is separate from those of the National Governmental Archive. Most records of genealogical use are kept at these Départements Archives, so it follows that it is important to know the Départements in which an ancestor lived before research can start.

Note that genealogical records are also kept at local Town Halls (Mairie). To further complicate matters the larger towns and cities, such as Paris, are often further divided into Arondissements - each with its own Town Hall and archives.

The fragmented format often means that travel costs are a large portion of a research budget. We tailor our service in France on a case by case basis once we have reviewed what material you have.

Civil Registration (registres d'état-civil):

Registres d'état-civil for the most part date from 1792.

After 100 years a duplicate of these records is then transferred to the Archives Départementales. Privacy laws mean that access to records more recent than 100 years is not generally permitted. Although if one can illustrate a direct line of descent from the individual concerned it is sometimes possible to overcome this problem.


Parish Registers: (les Registres Paroissiaux):

Sovereign Ancestry Lincolnshire - France image 1Parish registers are an extremely valuable resource especially when researching events prior to 1792 when civil registration began.

The Roman Catholic religion was the State Religion of France until 1787, with the exception of the period of 'Tolerance of Protestantism' from 1592-1685.

The Roman Catholic parish registers (Registres Paroissiaux or Registres de Catholicit) were the only method of recording births, deaths, and marriages in France prior to the introduction of State Registration in September 1792.

A few Parish registers date back to the early as 1300s although the vast majority of surviving records date from the mid-1600's.

These early records were kept in French and sometimes in Latin. They contain not only baptisms, marriages, and burials, but also Banns of Marriage and Confirmations.

Census Records:

In France Censuses were taken every five years beginning in 1772 but prior to 1836 are not usually of genealogical use as they were pretty much statistical and didn't note personal details although there are always exceptions.

There are two exceptions to the five year rule include the 1871 census which was actually taken in 1872, and the 1916 census which was omitted due to the First World War.

However, Census records are not often used for genealogical research because they are not indexed making it difficult and thus very time consuming to locate an individual within them. Not such a problem in very rural areas but in larger towns and cities only viable if one has an address to work with.

Other Sources:

  • Voters Lists from 1848
  • Cemetery Records
  • Notarial Records
  • Military Records
  • Non Roman Catholic Records (Protestant etc)


All can be meticulously researched by Sovereign Ancestry.